Happy May! Where has the time gone?? I’ve been busy studying for my Psychiatry shelf and I’m happy the warm weather is here! I’ve got a bunch of new stuff coming soon to the blog, including posts for premeds who will be applying to medical school soon. Be sure to subscribe so you don’t miss out.
Continuing the Match Series, I’m extremely excited (and proud!) to introduce a good friend of mine. Frank studied at Ross, an Caribbean medical school, and matched at his top choice for residency! Keep reading to see where he ended up and how he did it!
Name & Age: Francesco Laterza, 26
Hometown/State: Pequannock, NJ
Medical School: Ross University School of Medicine in Portsmouth, Dominica
Specialty and Residency Location: Neurology, University of Illinois in Chicago
What made you decide to apply to Ross? Did you consider other program types?
I did apply to other US medical schools, but I was late in the cycle. I got a handful of interviews, but ultimately was only wait listed. I applied to Ross on a whim, was accepted within 2 weeks, and decided to go. I didn’t want to wait until the following application cycle and I figured an MD is still an MD, no matter where I train.
How were your pre-clinical years at Ross?
The curriculum was tough. The information was given to us at a very high intensity, and we only had 2 week breaks between semesters (which means no summer off). We had about 4 exams + 1 final each semester, that would average out for our final grade. If a student failed a semester, he or she was allowed to repeat the semester. However, fail a second time, and you were kicked out. I had to do a lot of self-teaching. A class size of 400+ students makes it a bit difficult to find alone time with professors. I found it rewarding, and made the most out of my education. Ross requires all 4th semester students to take a comp prior to sitting for Step 1. If you fail comp, you have to take it again, and have up to 3 tries. After failing the third time, you are again, kicked out. Only after passing comp can you take your Step 1 and continue your education.
Island life was definitely a LOT simpler than being in the US. There were less distractions and I found it easier to focus on studying. On those days that I needed a day off, I had the beach readily available or I would take a weekend to travel the island. I definitely enjoyed my time there, and made the most of it. It was hard at first to be away from home, but I adjusted, as everyone does. I learned that all the luxuries we have in America aren’t necessary to survive. I am definitely more appreciative for what I have in the US.
Any tips for adjusting to the workload in medical school?
It all comes down to time management. The amount of information medical school throws at you is astounding. When studying, quality is WAY more important than quantity. I studied about 10-12 hours a day on average, and around 16 the few days before an exam. For me to stay sane, I made time to do activities that were not study related. I found it easier to come back and focus on what was important. Finally, SLEEP. The biggest mistake I made was averaging only 5 hours of sleep at night for the first two years on the island. I found myself waking up and rushing to the library because I felt guilty that I wasn’t studying. Within 1 hour, I’d take a nap. Having a full night’s rest (whatever that means for you) is incredibly important.
Did you do any research during medical school?
Ross does not offer many opportunities for research. I went on my own and asked a resident during my third year to help with a research project he had.
Make a schedule and keep to a routine. I benefitted immensely from taking a Kaplan review course. I didn’t take it for the learning, but for the structure and learning environment. I do better when someone is talking to me and I write down notes, but everyone is different. Treat every exam in medical school like you’re studying for Step 1. It made my life a lot easier when it came down to crunch time. I wasn’t learning new material, but only refreshing material I had already once understood. First Aid was with me everywhere I went during my second year in med school and I completed uWorld twice. The more questions and practice tests you do, the better.
How and when did you decide on your specialty? What is it about neurology that draws you to it?
I knew I loved neurology since high school. The nervous system fascinates me, and it always has. I majored in neuroscience while in college as well and always knew what field I would be in. Back then, I had always thought I would become a neurosurgeon. I absolutely LOVED surgery, but I learned that I couldn’t do the hours and lifestyle when I rotated through general surgery. To be completely honest, I knew many Caribbean students, regardless of their CV or personalities, do not match well in neurosurgery. Starting at a lower level than other students as an IMG is a definite drawback. However, I knew I would be just as happy as a neurologist as neurosurgeon, so I am not upset by my decision.
Now that you’ve matched, what are some tips you have for third/fourth years?
When it’s your turn, be confident in yourself. Know your CV, and its strengths and weaknesses. If you’re an IMG, then know some hospitals just won’t look at you because of where you went to medical school (something that GREATLY annoys me, but I won’t get into that). My thinking when applying was, just because no other Caribbean grad interviewed here, doesn’t mean I can’t be the first. It was incredibly frustrating knowing that if I had went to an American school that I would have been granted an interview at many of these programs.
Ultimately, I learned that the name of a place isn’t everything. What’s more important is your happiness. You’re going to be living somewhere new and working with a program from anywhere for 3-7 years. Residency is hard. If you’re not happy where you work or live, you’ll be miserable as a physician. Miserable doctors will not perform as well as happy ones. Simple as that.
How many programs did you apply to, and how many interviews did you end up attending?
When applying for an interview, be smart. I applied to every state that I could see myself living in. I was very nervous about being an IMG, and I would have rather had too many interviews than too few. Since I applied to about 100 neurology programs, I was granted about 50 interviews, and only went to 19. In retrospect, I definitely applied to too many places, but being an IMG I did not want to risk having too few interviews. (side note: Frank told me Ross recommended applying to 150-200 programs!)
Did you do any away/audition rotations?
I did not. Many programs have extra hoops that IMGs have to jump through in order to send in an application. Ross has a lot of affiliates and I was lucky enough to have many options to begin with. Furthermore, it costs money to travel and pay for short term rent in many different cities.
I would definitely go through medical school again. If I had to repeat it, I would have probably waited for the next cycle and attempted to attend a US school. I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity Ross has given me, and I matched, so it was all worth it. I now know that being branded an IMG makes applications and match a lot harder. I knew I had to score extra high on my Step exams, fluff my resume more, and spend more money when applying in order to ensure I match. Not having that added stress would have been great.
However, I am incredibly grateful to have attended Ross. The experience I had on the island and beyond truly shaped me into the person I am today. I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything. I met my current boyfriend of 3 years and have made some of the best friends while there.
If you’re looking to go the Caribbean route, I would suggest to go through two application cycles in the US, and if you’re still unsuccessful, then apply Caribbean. They’ll always want you, and give you the opportunity to pursue your dream.
How do you ultimately see yourself practicing medicine?
I want to be an attending at a teaching hospital. I absolutely love teaching, and I have always seen myself with residents and medical students. I want to work in a hospital and as of now, hopefully complete a fellowship in neurocritical care.
A big thanks to Frank for writing all this out (and for letting me creep on his Facebook to get these photos).
Super proud of everything you’ve accomplished, and I can’t wait to visit you in Chicago!
Follow him on Instagram: @franklaterza.